Back pain is the leading cause of disability and one of the most common reasons for missed work, reports the American Chiropractic Association (ACA). Millions of Americans experience back pain and other back issues at any given time. Various conditions can lead to back problems, from arthritis and scoliosis to degenerative discs and spinal stenosis.
When you have a long-term back problem that prevents you from working, you may qualify to receive Social Security disability benefits. You must have a medically determinable impairment and meet other basic criteria to collect benefits. For more information about Social Security disability for back problems in Pittsburgh or for help with the application process, call Berger and Green at 412-661-1400.
What types of back problems qualify for Social Security disability?
The Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Blue Book includes a “Listing of Impairments,” which lists all the physical and mental conditions that the Administration automatically considers disabling. Many of the impairments related to back problems are listed in Section 1.00 Musculoskeletal System. Other impairments that affect the back are listed in sections for other body systems.
If you have one of the listed conditions and meet all the severity criteria, the SSA will deem you as disabled. Some of the back conditions that are listed in the Blue Book include:
- Herniated nucleus pulposus
- Spinal arachnoiditis
- Spinal stenosis
- Degenerative disc disease
- Facet arthritis
- Vertebral fracture
What if my back problem is not on the list of impairments?
Even if you have a back problem that is not on the list of impairments, you can still qualify as disabled if your records indicate that you are unable to work due to your limitations. The claims examiner will review your medical files and your residual functional capacity (RFC) form, filled out by your doctor. An RFC evaluates what kinds of functional abilities you have and do not have, such as your ability to stand or sit for long periods, lift items, follow directions, etc.
If the SSA finds that you are unable to work or adjust to new work due to the limitations caused by your back problem, your age, and your work and educational background, it may still grant you benefits based on medical vocational allowance.
What other criteria must I meet to qualify for disability benefits?
To qualify for Social Security disability benefits, there are several criteria you must meet:
- You must have a medically determinable impairment, determined either by meeting the criteria for a listing or by having a very low RFC rating.
- Your condition has lasted or is expected to last a year or more or result in death.
- Despite abiding by treatment, you are unable to perform full-time work.
You must also meet work history or financial requirements, depending on which disability benefit you are applying for:
- Supplemental Security Income – Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, benefits those with limited work history and resources. If you are applying for SSI, your monthly income must not exceed the Federal Benefit Rate ($735 in 2017), and you must have less than $2,000 in resources. There are various types of income and resources the SSA does not include when determining your benefits, though. Call 412-661-1400 to speak to a lawyer about whether you qualify. The call is free.
- Social Security Disability Insurance – Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI, benefits disabled workers. If you are applying for SSDI, your income and resources are irrelevant, but you will need to have a certain number of work credits on your record. You earn work credits by working at a job in which you paid Social Security taxes. The number of credits you need depends on your age. Younger workers need less than older workers. Your Berger and Green attorney can check your record and determine if you meet the criteria.
How do I prove my back problem disability claim to the SSA?
You will need substantial medical evidence to prove your disability to the SSA. The Administration evaluates certain conditions differently and will want to see medical tests and other records pertinent to your specific impairment. For instance, if you have degenerative disc disease, to qualify as disabled under the listing, your records should show:
- Appropriate medical imaging tests
- Atrophy reports
- A compromise of a nerve root or spinal cord
- Nerve root compression characterized by pain, limitation of motion of the spine, and motor loss
- Sensory or reflex loss
- Positive straight-leg raising test, if your lower back is involved
The more thorough your records and the more detailed your doctor’s notes about your limitations, the better you will be able to prove your disability. “Examination of the spine should include a detailed description of gait, range of motion of the spine…, any other appropriate tension signs, motor and sensory abnormalities, muscle spasm, when present, and deep tendon reflexes,” explains the SSA.
What if my disability claim for my back problem is denied?
If you applied for benefits and received a letter of denial in the mail, you are not alone. The SSA denies the majority of the claims it receives each year. Do not be discouraged. Our attorneys at Berger and Green in Pittsburgh can help you appeal your case. We will determine why the SSA denied your benefits, gather new evidence to support your case, and represent you through the appeals process.
You must act fast to appeal your claim though, or the SSA will close your case. You have 60 days from the date of the letter you received to officially make an appeal.
Before proceeding with your back-related disability claim, contact our attorneys at Berger and Green for a free consultation. We can review your case and counsel you on the best way to move forward so that you can pursue the benefits you and your family need. Call 412-661-1400 today.